The Greater Blue Mountains Area was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2000.
The Greater Blue Mountains Area was one of 15 World Heritage places included in the National Heritage List on 21 May 2007.
The unique plants and animals that live here relate an extraordinary story of the evolution of Australia's unique eucalypt vegetation and its associated communities of plants and animals. It is an area of breathtaking views, rugged tablelands, sheer cliffs, deep inaccessible valleys and swamps.
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The Greater Blue Mountains Area consists of 10,000 km2 of mostly forested landscape on a sandstone plateau extending 60 to 180 kilometres inland from central Sydney, New South Wales.
Description of place
The property includes very extensive areas of a wide range of eucalypt communities and large tracts of wilderness. The high wilderness quality of much of the Greater Blue Mountains Area constitutes a vital and highly significant contribution to its World Heritage value and has ensured the integrity of its ecosystems and the retention and protection of its heritage values.
The Greater Blue Mountains is an area of breathtaking views, rugged tablelands, sheer cliffs, deep inaccessible valleys and swamps teeming with life. The unique plants and animals that live in this outstanding natural place relate an extraordinary story of Australia's antiquity, its diversity of life and its superlative beauty. This is the story of the evolution of Australia's unique eucalypt vegetation and its associated communities, plants and animals.
The property is comprised of eight protected areas in two blocks separated by a transportation and urban development corridor. These protected areas are the Blue Mountains, Wollemi, Yengo, Nattai, Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone and Thirlmere Lakes National Parks, and the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve.
The area is a deeply incised sandstone plateau rising from less than 100 metres above sea level to about 1300 metres at the highest point. There are basalt outcrops on the higher ridges. This plateau is thought to have enabled the survival of a rich diversity of plant and animal life by providing a refuge from climatic changes during recent geological history. It is particularly noted for its wide and balanced representation of eucalypt communities ranging from wet and dry sclerophyll to mallee heathlands, as well as localised swamps, wetlands, and grassland. One hundred and one species of eucalypts (over 14 per cent of the global total) occur in the Greater Blue Mountains Area. Twelve of these are believed to occur only in the Sydney sandstone region.
The evolution of eucalypts
The property has been described as a natural laboratory for studying the evolution of eucalypts. The largest area of high diversity of eucalypts on the continent is located in southeast Australia and the Greater Blue Mountains Area includes much of this eucalypt diversity.
As well as supporting such a significant proportion of the world's eucalypt species, the property provides examples of the range of structural adaptations of the eucalypts to Australian environments. These vary from tall forests at the margins of rainforest in the deep valleys, through open forests and woodlands, to shrublands of stunted mallees on the exposed tablelands.
The ancient Wollemi pine
In addition to its outstanding eucalypts, the Greater Blue Mountains Area also contains ancient, relict species of global significance. The most famous of these is the recently-discovered Wollemi pine, Wollemia nobilis, a "living fossil" dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. Thought to have been extinct for millions of years, the few surviving trees of this ancient species are known only from three small populations located in remote, inaccessible gorges within the Greater Blue Mountains Area. The Wollemi pine is one of the world's rarest species.
More than 400 different kinds of animals live within the rugged gorges and tablelands of the Greater Blue Mountains Area. These include threatened or rare species of conservation significance, such as the spotted-tailed quoll, the koala, the yellow-bellied glider, the long-nosed potoroo, the green and golden bell frog and the Blue Mountains water skink. Flora and fauna of conservation significance and their habitats are a major component of the World Heritage values of the area.
The area is widely renowned and extensively used for sight-seeing, bushwalking, rock climbing, canyoning and other outdoor recreational pursuits.
Management of the Greater Blue Mountains Area
The New South Wales Government is responsible for day-to-day management of the Greater Blue Mountains Area.
Statement of Outstanding Universal Value
The Greater Blue Mountains Area (GBMA) is a deeply incised sandstone tableland that encompasses 1.03 million hectares of eucalypt-dominated landscape just inland from Sydney, Australia’s largest city, in south-eastern Australia. Spread across eight adjacent conservation reserves, it constitutes one of the largest and most intact tracts of protected bushland in Australia. It also supports an exceptional representation of the taxonomic, physiognomic and ecological diversity that eucalypts have developed: an outstanding illustration of the evolution of plant life. A number of rare and endemic taxa, including relict flora such as the Wollemi pine, also occur here. Ongoing research continues to reveal the rich scientific value of the area as more species are discovered.
The geology and geomorphology of the property, which includes 300 metre cliffs, slot canyons and waterfalls, provides the physical conditions and visual backdrop to support these outstanding biological values. The property includes large areas of accessible wilderness in close proximity to 4.5 million people. Its exceptional biodiversity values are complemented by numerous others, including indigenous and post-European-settlement cultural values, geodiversity, water production, wilderness, recreation and natural beauty.
Criterion (ix): be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals:
The Greater Blue Mountains include outstanding and representative examples in a relatively small area of the evolution and adaptation of the genus Eucalyptus and eucalypt-dominated vegetation on the Australian continent. The site contains a wide and balanced representation of eucalypt habitats including wet and dry sclerophyll forests and mallee heathlands, as well as localised swamps, wetlands and grassland. It is a centre of diversification for the Australian scleromorphic flora, including significant aspects of eucalypt evolution and radiation. Representative examples of the dynamic processes in its eucalypt-dominated ecosystems cover the full range of interactions between eucalypts, understorey, fauna, environment and fire. The site includes primitive species of outstanding significance to the evolution of the earth’s plant life, such as the highly restricted Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) and the Blue Mountains pine (Pherosphaera fitzgeraldii). These are examples of ancient, relict species with Gondwanan affinities that have survived past climatic changes and demonstrate the highly unusual juxtaposition of Gondwanan taxa with the diverse scleromorphic flora.
Criterion (x): contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of Outstanding Universal Value from the point of view of science or conservation:
The site includes an outstanding diversity of habitats and plant communities that support its globally significant species and ecosystem diversity (152 plant families, 484 genera and c. 1,500 species). A significant proportion of the Australian continent’s biodiversity, especially its scleromorphic flora, occur in the area. Plant families represented by exceptionally high levels of species diversity here include Myrtaceae (150 species), Fabaceae (149 species), and Proteaeceae (77 species). Eucalypts (Eucalyptus, Angophora and Corymbia, all in the family Myrtaceae) which dominate the Australian continent are well represented by more than 90 species (13% of the global total). The genus Acacia (in the family Fabaceae) is represented by 64 species. The site includes primitive and relictual species with Gondwanan affinities (Wollemia, Pherosphaera, Lomatia, Dracophyllum, Acrophyllum, Podocarpus and Atkinsonia) and supports many plants of conservation significance including 114 endemic species and 177 threatened species.
The diverse plant communities and habitats support more than 400 vertebrate taxa (of which 40 are threatened), comprising some 52 mammal, 63 reptile, over 30 frog and about one third (265 species) of Australia’s bird species. Charismatic vertebrates such as the platypus and echidna occur in the area. Although invertebrates are still poorly known, the area supports an estimated 120 butterfly and 4,000 moth species, and a rich cave invertebrate fauna (67 taxa).
Statement of Integrity
The seven adjacent national parks and single karst conservation reserve that comprise the GBMA are of sufficient size to protect the biota and ecosystem processes, although the boundary has several anomalies that reduce the effectiveness of its 1 million hectare size. This is explained by historical patterns of clearing and private land ownership that preceded establishment of the parks. However parts of the convoluted boundary reflect topography, such as escarpments that act as barriers to potential adverse impacts from adjoining land. In addition, much of the property is largely protected by adjoining public lands of State Forests and State Conservation Areas. Additional regulatory mechanisms, such as the statutory wilderness designation of 65% of the property, the closed and protected catchment for the Warragamba Dam and additions to the conservation reserves that comprise the area further protect the integrity of the GBMA. Since listing, proposals for a second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek, adjacent to the GBMA, have been abandoned1.
Most of the natural bushland of the GBMA is of high wilderness quality and remains close to pristine. The plant communities and habitats occur almost entirely as an extensive, largely undisturbed matrix almost entirely free of structures, earthworks and other human intervention. Because of its size and connectivity with other protected areas, the area will continue to play a vital role in providing opportunities for adaptation and shifts in range for all native plant and animal species within it, allowing essential ecological processes to continue. The area’s integrity depends upon the complexity of its geological structure, geomorphology and water systems, which have created the conditions for the evolution of its outstanding biodiversity and which require the same level of protection.
An understanding of the cultural context of the GBMA is fundamental to the protection of its integrity. Aboriginal people from six language groups, through ongoing practices that reflect both traditional and contemporary presence, continue to have a custodial relationship with the area. Occupation sites and rock art provide physical evidence of the longevity of the strong Aboriginal cultural connections with the land. The conservation of these associations, together with the elements of the property’s natural beauty, contributes to its integrity.
Requirements for protection and management
The GBMA is protected and managed under legislation of both the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of New South Wales. All World Heritage properties in Australia are ‘matters of national environmental significance’ protected and managed under national legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This Act is the statutory instrument for implementing Australia’s obligations under a number of multilateral environmental agreements including the World Heritage Convention. By law, any action that has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on the World Heritage values of a World Heritage property must be referred to the responsible Minister for consideration. Substantial penalties apply for taking such an action without approval. Once a heritage place is listed, the Act provides for the preparation of management plans which set out the significant heritage aspects of the place and how the values of the site will be managed.
Importantly, this Act also aims to protect matters of national environmental significance, such as World Heritage properties, from impacts even if they originate outside the property or if the values of the property are mobile (as in fauna). It thus forms an additional layer of protection designed to protect values of World Heritage properties from external impacts. In 2007, the GBMA was added to the National Heritage List, in recognition of its national heritage significance under the Act.
A single State government agency, the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, manages the area. All the reserves that comprise the GBMA are subject to the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the Wilderness Act 1987. Other relevant legislation includes the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, the Sydney Water Catchment Management Act 1998 and the Heritage Act 1977.
At the time of nomination statutory management plans for the constituent reserves of the GBMA were in place or in preparation, and these are reviewed every 7-10 years. Currently all management plans have been gazetted, and those for three component reserves (Wollemi, Blue Mountains, and Kanangra-Boyd National Parks, which constitute 80% of the property) are under revision for greater emphasis on the protection of identified values. An over-arching Strategic Plan for the property provides a framework for its integrated management, protection, interpretation and monitoring.
The major management challenges identified in the Strategic Plan fall into six categories: uncontrolled or inappropriate use of fire; inappropriate recreation and tourism activities, including the development of tourism infrastructure, due to increasing Australian and overseas visitor pressure and commercial ventures; invasion by pest species including weeds and feral animals; loss of biodiversity and geodiversity at all levels; impacts of human-enhanced climate change; and lack of understanding of heritage values.
The set of key management objectives set out in the Strategic Plan provides the philosophical basis for the management of the area and guidance for operational strategies, in accordance with requirements of the World Heritage Convention and its Operational Guidelines. These objectives are also consistent with the Australian World Heritage management principles, contained in regulations under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
1. Since this retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value was approved by the World Heritage Committee in 2013, the Australian Government has decided to proceed with construction of the Western Sydney Airport. More than 40 strict environmental conditions have been placed on the development of the airport, addressing biodiversity, noise and heritage. These conditions are included in the Airport Plan. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre issued a statement on the Greater Blue Mountains Area on 7 June 2017.
History of Inscription
The Greater Blue Mountains Area was inscribed on the World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee at its 24th session on 2 December 2000.
This Retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value was adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session on 27 June 2013.
World Heritage listing information
Visit the UNESCO web site for official listing information on the Greater Blue Mountains Area:
- Greater Blue Mountains Area World Heritage Nomination (PDF - 5.59 MB)
- Greater Blue Mountains Area map (PDF - 666.89 KB)
- Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area factsheet (PDF - 835.95 KB)
World Heritage Committee consideration of the state of conservation of the Greater Blue Mountains Area
From time to time, the World Heritage Committee requests specific reports on the state of conservation of properties included on the World Heritage List. Australia provided state of conservation reports on the Greater Blue Mountains Area in April 2019 and December 2020. A state of conservation update was also provided in April 2020 following the 2019-20 bushfires.
- State Party Report on the State of Conservation of the Greater Blue Mountains Area – April 2019
- Greater Blue Mountains Area State of Conservation update - April 2020
- State Party Report on the state of conservation of the Greater Blue Mountains Area – December 2020
The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee considered the state of conservation of the Greater Blue Mountains Area in 2021.
The full text of the decision of the World Heritage Committee is available on the UNESCO website - Decision: 44 COM 7B.180
As requested by the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee, Australia is preparing a further State of Conservation report on the Greater Blue Mountains Area for submission to the World Heritage Centre by 1 December 2022.
- Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area Strategic Plan
- Blue Mountain National Park
- Kanangra-Boyd National Park
- Gardens of Stone National Park
- Wollemi National Park
- Yengo National Park, Parr State Conservation Area and Finchley Aboriginal Area
- Thirlmere Lakes National Park
- Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve
- Potential cumulative impacts of mining on the Outstanding Universal Value of the Greater Blue Mountains Area
- Australian Heritage Database record - World Heritage List
- Databases and applications - Spatial data (in an ESRI shapefile format) for all of Australia’s World Heritage properties is held by the Department
- Protected Planet Database - The Greater Blue Mountains Area World Heritage Site
National Heritage listing information
- Gazettal notice (PDF - 67.56 KB)
- Location/Boundary plan (PDF - 919.34 KB)
- Australian Heritage Database record - National Heritage List
Greater Blue Mountains Area Executive Officer
c/- NSW NPWS
PO Box 6
Glenbrook NSW 2773